Park welcomes Abe’s concession

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Park welcomes Abe’s concession

President Park Geun-hye cautiously welcomed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to stand by the Japanese government’s past apologies for its wartime aggressions and forcing women into sexual slavery, making the possibility of a summit between the two leaders more likely.

“We think it is a relief that Prime Minister Abe announced his plans to inherit the Kono and Murayama statements,” Park said through her spokesman on Saturday, a day after Abe announced his decision at Japan’s Diet in Tokyo. This was the first positive remark Park has made about the Japanese leader since she took office more than a year ago.

Park further conveyed through presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook that she hopes “this will serve as an opportunity to ease the pain of victims of sexual slavery [by the Japanese military during World War II] and strengthen Korea-Japan and Northeast Asian relations.”

On Friday, Abe told the upper house budget committee that he is not thinking of revising the Kono Statement of 1993, which he had earlier threatened to do, in an attempt to ease relations with Korea ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to both Asian nations next month.

Abe further said that his administration would uphold a broader apology made in 1995 by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama for Japan’s wartime aggressions.

Abe’s official declaration that he will stand by the Kono Statement follows a contrary move by his administration last month to “re-examine” the testimonies of Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese military. That move was interpreted in Seoul as a direct challenge to the 1993 statement by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono that acknowledged the sexual slavery and apologized for it.

Washington likewise welcomed Abe’s statement on Friday. The U.S. State Department said Friday it considered the comments “a positive development” for improving Korean and Japanese relations.

A State Department spokesperson further said this “marked important chapters in Japan’s efforts to improve relations with its neighbors.”

Japanese media, including the daily Yomiuri Shimbun, is showing interest in whether a trilateral summit between Korea, Japan and the United States could be arranged on the sidelines of a nuclear summit in The Hague on March 24 and 25. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun yesterday reported that the recent developments “can be perceived as a signal that the Korean government has a positive attitude toward a summit.”

Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki made a trip to Seoul last week to meet with his Korean counterpart, but no headway was made in terms of a bilateral presidential summit.

“A meeting between the leaders of Korea and Japan cannot be ruled out if the U.S. strongly pushes for a trilateral summit or other forms of talks ahead of The Hague nuclear summit,” said a Blue House official yesterday. “While it is not sufficient yet, as there are signs of improvement, it is important to continue such an atmosphere,” another Blue House official added.

“Right after its inauguration, the Park administration focused on bilateral diplomacy, but this year it’s showing a tendency toward considering the larger picture of Northeast Asia,”

Park In-hui, an international studies professor at Ewha Womans University, told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday. “It appears that the Park administration considers that Korea-Japan relations should be viewed in the larger context.”

She added that in Park’s upcoming trips to The Hague and Berlin, her message will include both Korean Peninsula issues as well as that of Japan’s historical perception.

“Thus, even if the three countries meet in The Hague, rather than holding deep conversations with a detailed agenda, they will seek consensus on general principles,” she said. “But even those kind of talks can be a first step for the improvement of Korea-Japan relations.”

Japanese Ambassador to the United States Kenichiro Sasae said at a press conference Friday said “it’s too early to tell” about a trilateral summit between the three leaders in The Hague.

Seoul is still cautious since Japan, under Abe, has tilted deliberately to the right. Even Friday, while affirming the Kono Statement, Abe made belligerent remarks about how historical issues should not turn into political or diplomatic disputes - repeating a common pattern of contradictory messages on sensitive topics.

In a statement late Friday, Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it “emphasizes that the sincerity of Prime Minister Abe’s statement depends on the actions of the Japanese government and political leaders.”

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]



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